Ill. river being poisoned today in search for Asian carp

Asian carp
There are several types of Asian carp, including the jumping silver carp, shown here on the Missouri River. They pose hazards for boaters, but they also pose an ecological hazard for native fishes.
Photo by Jason Jenkins, University of Missouri

Officials in Illinois are poisoning part of a river that connects to Lake Michigan in search for Asian carp, an invasive fish that could threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The poison, which kills fish but does not harm people or wildlife, is being applied to a two-mile stretch of the Little Calumet River. That part of the river is located one mile downstream from a lock and dam that several Great Lakes states, including Minnesota, had argued should be closed to prevent the carp from getting any closer to Lake Michigan.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the states' lawsuit seeking to prevent the invasive fish from spreading to the Great Lakes. But on Wednesday, the attorneys general from Minnesota and four other states sent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a letter. In it, they urged quick and more comprehensive action to keep Asian carp out.

"Further delay is unacceptable," the attorneys general from Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin wrote.

In the letter, the attorneys general requested several short-term actions, including applying poison to every location where DNA tests have indicated the presence of Asian carp. They also said two locks near Chicago should be closed and installing mesh screens or other barriers to minimize the risk of Asian carp passing through.

A spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers said officials there hadn't yet received the letter and would not immediately comment.

While it could take some time for the invasive carp to get to Lake Superior, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has said the fish could eventually threaten the lake's native fish population, and therefore Minnesota's economy.

Shipping companies have been critical of efforts to stop Asian carp from spreading, including the poisoning, which causes part of the Little Camulet to be shut down for up to a week.

"Even temporary closures can cause freight to backup for weeks," Mark Biel, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, said in a written statement issued Thursday. "Operators just can't afford to be shut down unexpectedly in this economy."

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